Richard L. Ash, Jr.
Perhaps being a son of a distinguished practicing engineer and educator father, or son of a mother dedicated to pursuit of character and performance, or growing up in a rural Midwest environment with abundant nature and exploration opportunities, or gaining discipline as a U.S. Army officer and collegiate athlete, or a combination thereof, Rich's core values set the stage for lifelong personal, professional and civic contributions.
His incessant curiosity of inter-relationships between hard and soft science secure the foundation for his inquisitiveness, decision-making, visionary outlook, and stubborn belief that “doing your homework” is essential to success. What else could possibly account for attaining 200+ credit hours of science and engineering coursework, far beyond the actual number required, because it was “…interesting and necessary to fully understand the interactions...”? This could answer why his long-time deputy administrator once said, “Richard is the biggest 'detail wonk' I have ever seen.” Another staffer noted, “When you take him your first answer to an assigned problem, you can damn well bet you will leave with a least five more questions to investigate!”
Equally, he has a gratitude for his colleagues, associates, friends, situation, and even opposition. Rich's tolerance of conflicting viewpoints and opposition strategies often sparks interest rather than immediate rebuke. Thus, his career shows he stands on what he believes and decides, but his tolerance and interest in “…where someone is coming from” has created a foundation for many collaborative accomplishments.
Lastly, Richard is the walking billboard for lack of self-aggrandizement. His team player attitude and behind-the-scenes efforts speak volumes about his character. A friend recalled Richard’s insistence that they drive immediately across a neighboring state to attend an Academy colleague's visitation because ”…he earned our presence and would expect it of us!” This writer was also compelled to note his history of generous philanthropy to two Missouri universities, his state organization, plus local and statewide conservation projects.
These core values underlie all his contributions, whether advocacy, courageous decision-making, or dedication to the public.
In a near 40-year career, Richard associated with two legends – Ford Hughes and Norb Wapplehorst. These mentors helped to create an experience base that would serve him very well. Choosing the park and recreation profession over engineering due to “...the offer of diverse settings, people, and relationships...” he benefited greatly from the James Foundation Meramec Springs facility and the early tutelage of Ford Hughes. As the Boss's “right hand deputy” he oversaw many facility asset enhancements, visitor behavior problem solving, and policy and revenue development. Interestingly, over this 11-year tenure, Ford fired Rich no less that three times, only to rehire him the next mornings as the principled battle of wills subsided. At St. Charles, Missouri, the training and experience would pay dividends for the city, county, and region for the next 26 years.
Working within the Administrative Board structure, which Richard felt “…was a valuable structure to buffer 'some' of the political influence inherent in practicing public park and recreation services,” he saw St. Charles experience growth in park resources, recreation opportunities, and fiscal foundation base. Noteworthy are: O/M budget from half a million to over four million; capital budget from 25k to nearly three million; nearly doubling of total acres; increase from 11 to 19 park sites; and a corresponding increase in personnel, both full- and part-time/seasonal. The smaller percentage of full-time personnel growth respective to the system enlargement was indicative of Richard's contributions – fiscal management.
Growth in public park and recreation during this period was remarkable in many locales of Missouri and nationwide. Rich’s guidance created a much more encompassing system, expanding greatly passive outdoor recreation opportunities by adding natural areas and broadening public fishing opportunities. Cultural and historical recreation opportunities also grew. Utilizing the city's rich history, park sites were developed to expand cultural events and historical festivals, enhancing tourism and economic benefit. This coincided with growth of active public recreation pursuits in the traditional sport, swimming, and trail development, and thus this legacy of a broad system with multi-faceted opportunities is a lasting impact.
One of Richard's lasting impacts lies in his fiscal stewardship skills and vision. He believed policy and practice to promote sustainment of the system during inevitable periods of highs and lows must be pursued. He became a champion of the equipment replacement fund strategy as a means to retain the necessary maintenance and service providing equipment essential for maintaining a quality recreation experience. As knowledgeable people might suspect, however, once a disciplined approach is successful, the fund begins to accrue a balance that becomes attractive to outside interests for alternative uses. On notable occasions, his courageous decision-making, discipline, and thoughtful communications were able to retain the fund's purpose, resulting in consistent quality. Occasionally, newly-appointed board members would begin their terms with skepticism, perceived or evoked, toward the practice, only to later become staunch supporters.
Jokingly referred to as “Ebenezer” by his staff, but more accurately as fiscally “prudent” by outside evaluations, Richard was consistently sought for presentations on fiscal management, both on revenue and expenditures. He and his staff were asked to teach a select graduate seminar at the University of Missouri. Their reputation attracted not only students in the field, but also from the School of Natural Resources and College of Business. His education efforts are not limited to fiscal management, however. In 1996 Richard hosted the National Symposium in St. Charles addressing Non-IT Technology, Watershed Management and Character Definition of Urban-Suburban-Rural Environs. A pivotal success, this symposium set the stage for numerous follow-on education activities spanning classroom to conference settings. In short, his lasting impact was a well-balanced foundation to provide future St. Charles citizens with high-quality, broad and diverse park and recreation opportunities.
Throughout his career, Richard Ash has proven to be a catalyst for local, regional, and statewide initiatives. Two highly successful and lasting impact efforts stand out. The St. Louis 2004 (POSTF) initiative began in 1996 to vision a metropolitan renaissance to coincide and capitalize with the approaching Lewis and Clark anniversary. One of the true legacy accomplishments of this evolving initiative was to be the Great Rivers Greenway District (GRGD). Richard was a key player from inception through the selection of the first Director. This District has been recognized nationwide as a major urban-suburban model providing lasting generational transportation and recreational trail network development. The vision and success was a monumental achievement due to like-minded individuals, such as Richard Ash, whose skills in collaboration, communication, and compromise yielded a legacy.
The Dardenne Creek Watershed initiative is a second important impact. Given an undesired push by the Great Flood of 1993, the opportunity to achieve a coordinated, collaborative watershed policy framework was conceived. This successful effort tied social, economic, and environmental aspects of a multi-community, multi-agency, private-public stakeholder organization, unprecedented to this point. Richard again was a key catalyst in the project. Due to his background in engineering, he served as a knowledgeable liaison and problem-solver between government agencies, governing bodies, developers, and business owners for consideration of storm water, waterway, detainment basins, and ordinance development issues. Richard's successful mantra was “…unless you live at the top of the watershed, everyone is downstream!” The achievement of the Dardenne Creek Watershed plan marked a milestone in cooperation of a suburban multi-scape.
The Servant Leader
Retirement after 37 years of service did not end major contributions. A lifelong outdoor recreation advocate and nature enthusiast, Richard entered a new level of commitment to the Conservation Federation of Missouri, the leading citizen conservation advocacy statewide group. While a long-time engaged member and participant, he was called on to provide direction and steady hand in an especially difficult and controversial time in the organization's history. First, he conducted a fiscal analysis of the organization's recent two decades that with transparency and detail provided clear information on current conditions, program expenditures and benefit results, and directional trends. Influenced by the investment climate downfall and rising costs of traditional organization program efforts, CFM faced on unclear future of its fiscal condition. Richard called upon like-minded members to lead a resurgence of fiscal and program alignment. The use of tax credit financing for select programs, re-energizing the business alliance program, and strengthening the fund-raising efforts, all combined to invigorate the fund balance from $0.8m in FY08 to $2.5m in FY15, and an undesignated fund balance of $1.1m in FY14 from $0.53m in FY08. This fiscal improvement, combined with a re-structuring of policies, procedures, and protocols, has re-established CFM to solid footing.
Secondly, during Richard's extended term in CFM Presidency, the state faced a looming threat and co-existing controversy surrounding Chronic Wasting Disease in its deer population. The Federation moved to establish a committee in 2013 to forcefully engage a full range of stakeholder issues, ranging not only from the hunting public, but property owners, legislators, media outlets, and concerned citizens to assist in addressing the issue. CFM was instrumental in sustaining a Governor's veto of legislation that would have transferred regulation of the captive deer industry from the Department of Conservation to the Department of Agriculture with a “voluntary” compliance program. The vote to sustain the Governor's veto passed by a single vote. Richard traveled more than 27,000 road miles in service during these critical times.
For many individuals their involvement leads only to involvement, but for a few special individuals their involvement leads to meaningful results and lasting benefits. In a long and dedicated professional career, and long and dedicated civic engagement history, Richard L. Ash, Jr. has brought his unique talents and high passion to the table for public parks, recreation, and conservation. He remains a cherished asset to the cause, and has fully earned his selection to receive a Pugsley Award. [current as of 10/2016]